Black Panther #171
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Art by Leonard Kirk and Laura Martin
Lettering by Joe Sabino
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
Having captured Ras the Exhorter, T’Challa and his army now turn towards the forces of Klaw and Ezekiel Stane in Black Panther #171. Leonard Kirk, Laura Martin, and Ta-Nehisi Coates deliver payoffs to T’Challa’s earlier actions while delivering a fun and exhilarating battle, while a well-loved character finally makes their return to the book.
Black Panther #171 reads very nicely in tandem with the prior chapter, continuing the epic battle between Wakanda and its enemies. This issue sees T’Challa and his team join up with the Midnight Angels in their fight against Klaw, Ezekiel Stane, and their army. As with the previous issue, artist Leonard Kirk really shines here, capturing the dizzying nature of an airborne battle. The action really pops - we have a bunch of characters who aren’t fliers but are still agile, and so it’s nice to see how they compensate with their athleticism while facing Stane and Klaw who are aboard hoverships.
Kirk is really able to maintain a sensible geography in the scene, so that the acrobatics don’t get lost in space. Writer Ta-Nehisi Coates also utilizes the battle to highlight the different personalities of the characters. A playful exchange between Kasper Cole and Manifold has the zip of some of Marvel Studios’ best action-comedy moments. One of the other highlights of the issue is the battle between T’Challa and Klaw. Klaw has always been one of Marvel’s worst-utilized villains – a being of pure sound that has been pummeled and beaten by just about everyone (looking at you, Goldballs). But here he has a real sense of invulnerability and menace. Coates and Kirk do a great job of making him a threat to T’Challa. Color artist Laura Martin subtly assists with that, with the early dawn making the sky the same color as Klaw’s powers, giving the reader the impression that Klaw really is control.
Coates however has been playing the long game with T’Challa, and in contrast to the previous arc, the payoffs here really feel earned. T’Challa’s besting of Klaw is less a testament to his physical prowess, than his intellectual might, leading Klaw into a trap of T’Challa’s own design. It’s nice to see Coates capture T’Challa’s strategic mind in a way that’s been missing from the character for some time.
There are a pair of return characters in Black Panther #171, one at the opening of the issue and one at the end. The opening is the return of Okoye, who - after making such a strong impression in the hands of Danai Gurira in Black Panther - needed to return from her long absence (gone since Priest’s run). Unfortunately, the final page reveal fell flat on its face for this reader. The reveal of Sefako’s true identity, like that of the Exhorter’s, was built up over the arc, and the reveal of it being a minor villain outside of Black Panther’s rogues gallery is disappointing. Editor Wil Moss thankfully includes where to find out more about this villain in the letters page of the issue. While it’s always nice to see obscure villains return, when the reveal is built up like this, you don’t want the readers to pull out their Djimon Honsou/Korath impressions.
That being said, this is an improvement over the previous issue, bolstered by a nice showdown between Black Panther and Klaw that show’s off the hero’s intelligence in addition to his physical might. Leornard Kirk and Laura Martin have made a wonderful battle that ebbs and flows, while the return of Okoye is more than welcome now that she has successfully stormed the cineplexes.